Magpie (Pica pica) This striking, handsome, noisy crow is believed to be among the most intelligent of all animals. It is omnivorous, a scavenger, a thief stealing eggs and young nestlings and bright, shiny objects. Though it is often described as a black and white bird, closer observation reveals iridescent blue, green and purple in its wing and tail feathers. An adult magpie’s tail is more than half the bird’s total length and indicates its social standing. Juveniles have much shorter tails. Magpies mate for life.
Known simply as a pie until the late 16th century, the prefix ‘mag’ was added – mag meaning female or chatterer. Magpies are renowned mimics and will learn other birds’ songs, telephone ring calls, door-bells.
One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Superstitious folk believe that a single magpie signals bad luck. To allay misfortune one should salute the bird or say, ‘Good morning, Mr Magpie, I hope your family is well.’ If the magpie looks directly into your eyes it is showing respect for you and thus the formalities need not be observed.
We have two Malus trees. The weeping crab-apple, Malus x scheideckeri ‘Red Jade’ bears red fruits.
Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’ flowers slightly later and has yellow apples. Red Jade has no fruits this year but Golden Hornet has produced a number of crab-apples . . .
. . . enough to make a small jar or two of crab-apple jelly?
The cheerful orange or yellow faces of Marigold (Calendula officinalis) brighten the sometimes dismal days of summer. In temperate climates it is an annual plant but self-seeds successfully. The petals can be used fresh in salads. When dried they are a substitute for the more expensive saffron and have been used to colour cheese.
As a herbal remedy Calendula can be applied externally as a salve or taken internally as an infusion. In its varying guises it is claimed to treat many ills from acne to conjunctivitis to warts.
Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata)
This evergreen aromatic shrub belongs to the rue family (Rutaceae) and will tolerate full sun, partial shade or shade in alkaline or lightly acidic soil but needs to be sheltered from cold winds. In spring it produces a profusion of sweetly perfumed flowers which attract bees and other pollinating insects. After flowering the stems should be cut back by 10-12” (25-30 cms) which encourages a second flush in August/September. Propagation is by cuttings taken between April and July. The leaves also release a fragrance when cut.
Mint grows rampantly if not checked but disappears underground in winter to emerge afresh in spring. We have three varieties – Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) with large soft furry leaves, black peppermint with purple stems and leaves (Mentha x piperita), and spearmint (Mentha spicata) The leaves are excellent in leafy and fruit salads or cooked with new potatoes or stir fry. I have yet to make mint sauce!
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